French jihadists in Syria and Cyber-indoctrination

April 24, 2014 

Rising number of French nationals in Syria is more about teen angst than genuine religious convictions.

On April 23, the French government unveiled a dozen proposals aiming at limiting the number of French citizens travelling to Syria with the intent of fighting among Islamist radical groups. This text, which encompasses a large series of initiatives to reduce cyber-recruitment from violent “jihadist” movements, had been in the works for several months but became even timelier following the release of four French journalists kidnapped in Syria since June 2013. Part of the information discovered during the journalists’ debriefing was that several of the kidnappers spoke to the hostages in French and were likely French nationals fighting with radical groups in Syria.

The last few months have been marked by a surge of propaganda videos from exiled combatants originally from France or Belgium, posted online to attract new recruits. They showcase heavy military arsenal and the most horrendous crimes. It is estimated that between 500 and 700 of them have now joined the fighting in Syria, more than doubling their number over the last four months.

This phenomenon is not limited to France as every European country is concerned, but the new French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls – who developed the law proposal during his tenure as interior minister – is the first European head of government to implement a comprehensive legal and preventive arsenal against nationals leaving for Syria. This includes travel restrictions for minors out of French territory without parental authorisation, increased interaction between parents and police, judiciary measures against citizens “who have committed crimes in Syria… brutalities, acts of torture, acts of decapitation, or murder” and the dismantling of online jihadist networks usually targeting minors, following the model currently in place to fight human trafficking and pornographic material.

If the measures are reminiscent of those targeting child abductions and organised crime, it is due to the very young age of some of those “jihad candidates” which include some as young as 14 years old, who are motivated more by teenage angst amplified by violent video games than serious religious convictions.

Their knowledge of the conflicts in the Middle East is filled with biases and a desire for short-lived glory under the pretext of a religious war that most do not comprehend. Their understanding of Islam and the conflict in Syria is in most cases the result of a very recent indoctrination, devoid of any solid mastering of the holy texts and historical facts. This incongruity was reaffirmed by experts gathered at the Arab World Institute during the inauguration, on April 22, by French President Francois Hollande of an exhibition dedicated to the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Contradictory profiles

What is also striking is the fact that the profiles of those foreign combatants contradict most prejudices. While the populist extreme right party led by Marine Le Pen has, as always, been quick to link this phenomenon to the immigrant population in France from North Africa and the French policy towards Syria, testimonies prove the opposite.

According to the Centre de Prevention Contre les Derives Sectaires Liees a l’Islam (CPDSI), a research centre recently created by anthropologist Dounia Bouzar, a former member of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, most French nationals volunteering to fight in the so-called “jihad” in Syria are actually not originally from traditional Muslim families. Two-thirds of them have been raised in family circles that did not dispense any religious teaching with parents describing themselves as atheists, with 80 percent of them being French nationals for more than three generations. Only 20 percent of the “jihad candidates” were raised in traditionally Muslim families, most of them not attending Friday prayer services, while 80 percent of those indoctrinated are below the age of 21.

Additional statistics show that more than one fourth of the candidates come from Seine St Denis, one of the 100 French departments known for its high rate of unemployment and family breakdown. Far from representing a radicalisation of Islam in France, the increasing number of French nationals in Syria is an epiphenomenon resulting from the enhanced capacity of transnational groups to entrap weak minds who have been dejected by the lack of economic growth in France over the last decades.

French ideals of revolution

As Mathieu Guidere, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toulouse, puts it, the candidates for insurgency in Syria have to be analysed as a new wave of answers to the French ideal of revolution in which “each generation aims to wage its own”.

In the 1970s, dozens joined Fidel Castro or Che Guevara in South America against “American imperialism”. Yet today, in the absence of new revolutionary ideologies to counterbalance the often unegalitarian and ostracising meta-structure, armed conflict in the Middle East is perceived as the stage to wage one’s revolution.

Faced with this ideological vacuum, the idleness felt by the French youth and the surge of online indoctrination propaganda, the contributions of the French imams are essential to moderate the teaching of the Holy texts, confront the biased arguments of radical zealots and prevent the rise of terrorism inside and outside France. The problem is that the Muslim faith in France still suffers from its lack of institutionalisation.

The French model of secularism, which prohibits any collusion between religions and the French state, also prevented French governments from supporting the construction of much-needed mosques or financially contribute to the training of the Muslim establishment. This void has been easily exploited by transnational radical movements. The prevention and repression measures submitted by Valls’ government will only be effective if they are accompanied by additional support to the structuration efforts of the Muslim community.

The management of security and religious affairs: the disappointing results of Interior Minister Manuel Valls in 2013

February 5, 2014


According to the recently released 2013 report by the National Observatory of Delinquency and Penal Action, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has not brought down crime nor been active on the regulation of religious committees, contrary to popular perception.

Enjoying successful poll ratings, Manuel Valls has been portrayed as the ‘strong man’ of the socialist government. But according to the report on delinquency and public security, the number of burglaries and homicides has increased despite a government plan to counter crime.

In addition to calling for redefining the mission of the judiciary police and integrating new technologies into the police force, the Interior Minister called for a tighter legal measures on internet and social media networks to stop hate messages. ‘The degree of latent hate expressed on social media is of an incompatible intensity with our national ambitions’, said Valls.

Valls is also in charge of maintaining France’s religious bodies, and the 2013 assessment is particularly weak on his management of Islam in France. At the start of his position in 2012, Valls had expressed ambitious plans in this domain. But up to now, nothing new has been implemented: the ‘Islam question’ may have been deemed too risky and hazardous for an Interior Minister who came across as a hardline supporter of secularism.

Valls had initially said he planned to create another national representative body for Muslims, the CFCM (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman) deemed too close to foreign agendas. Another project was to implement a ‘Foundation of French Islam’ intended for collecting funds transparently for the construction of places of worship. Valls let believe he wanted to reopen this project, but French Muslims have yet to see any steps forwards from the Interior Minister on this central question.



Knowledge on secularism diplomas awarded



28 people, including public officials, religious representatives and imams were awarded on Thursday in Lyon with a university diploma which validates their ‘knowledge on secularism’. The diploma was awarded by France’s Home Minister, Manuel Valls, who intends to expand this course to all religious representatives in the country. The course is financed by the French government and equals 200 hours of lectures on history, legal theory, etc., which are taught in University of Lyon III, the Catholic University of Lyon and the French Institute of Muslim Civilisation in Lyon.

“France will always protect its Muslim communities”, declares Minister

Manuel Valls, the current government’s Minister for Internal Affairs, declares during the visit of the  mosque of Ozoir-la-Ferrière (Seine-et-Marne) which has been subject to racist inscriptions that ‘France never tolerated any acts or words directed against Muslims. France will always protect the Muslims of France”. The ministers speech was part of a set of speeches made in mosques during the holy month of Ramadan. The minister called the slogans depicted on the mosque’s walls in February as ‘despicable’ and ‘unacceptable’.

While the actions and threats against Muslims increased by 35% during the first six months of the year compared to 2012, the minister said: “I will never let anyone say, nor believe that the authorities […] would favour anti-Semitic acts over anti-Muslim or anti-Christian acts. We know of this kind of rhetoric. It is false. It is shameful. This is one of division of hatred which is often guided towards another. ” He continued to speak against radicalization as a response to an increase in Islamophobia by saying that ” the Republic will always oppose those who would make France a land of conquest, which would, in the name of a misguided belief, impose laws other than the law for all.” Referring to the riots in Trappes (Yvelines), Valls stated that “the law banning the wearing of  the niqab in public places should be applied firmly […] Those who continue to advocate for wearing the niqab challenge our institutions.”

French ministers refuse to attend conference with Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University

Tariq Ramadan is an Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University and a former member of a working group on extremism set up by Tony Blair. Time magazine once described him as the “leading thinker” among Europe’s second and third-generation Muslim immigrants. Yet two French ministers have suddenly announced that they will not attend a conference in Florence tomorrow on the future of the European Union because of the presence of the scholar, Tariq Ramadan. He is due to be a panellist at the conference, entitled The State of the Union, speaking about “migration, identity and integration”. The French Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Women’s Rights Minister who is also a government spokeswoman, informed organisers that they were pulling out, saying they had “not been informed” of Professor Ramadan’s attendance. The philosopher is a controversial figure who has been accused of advocating violence and for some years was banned from entering France.

Muslim groups concerned about parliamentary debate upon secularism


Le Figaro

The representatives of eight large Muslim groups in France have expressed their concerns about the announcement of a new law against religious symbols, specifically the Muslim veil, during a meeting with France’s Secretary of Interior and Religion, Manuel Valls.

Muslim organisations are worried about the renewal of stigmatization of France’s Muslim communities in the wake of a potential legislative debate, which will as previously highlight Islam and Muslims in a negative, problematic way. According to them, statistics have proven that with each announcement upon Islam made in French politics, acts of Islamophobia are statistically proven to have increased in the country.

France’s enemy from within

French Secretary of State, Manuel Valls, has warned of the dangers of Islamic radicalisation in France. In an interview published by Le Parisien, Valls voices his concern about the state of Islamic radicalism in the country and estimates that there are dozens of more new Merahs in the country who need to be fought against.

According to him, France is fighting an “exterior enemy” in Mali whilst simultaneously fighting on a battlefront against the “enemy from within”, Muslim radicals, in France itself. As a result of France’s battle against fundamentalists, the government has dismantled a number of radical groups in the country and threatened with the deportation of radical preachers.

He calls on “French Islam” to ally itself with French imams educated in the country’s universities “who speak French and preach in French”.  He however also speaks of the financial situations of mosques and raises the question of looking into who is behind the funding of mosques, whether its “friendly states or not”.

A Tunisian Imam Expelled

Wednesday October 31, French police expelled 77 year-old Tunisian imam suspected of preaching the jihad. Mohamed Hammami, the imam of the Mosque of Omar in central Paris, was charged with making comments openly hostile to the values of the Republic. In a statement to the AFP, Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls accused Hammami of preaching violent jihad, anti-Semitism and the use of violence and corporal punishment against women including whipping-to-death of women accused of adultery.

There is no Islam in France, says Marine La Pen

News Agencies – October 8, 2012


There is no Islam that belongs to France, far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen said in response to comments to the contrary from Interior Minister Manuel Valls. Le Pen said it was clear that the activities of radical Muslims were not being monitored on French soil, adding that all French Muslims that had become victims of Islamism had to accept the country’s secular system and combat radicalism.

Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), also expressed his concerns about the growth of what he called an increasingly bellicose Islam, calling on the entire national Jewish community to defend itself against radicalization. Police detained 12 people suspected of involvement in radical Islamist activities mainly in Paris, Cannes and Strasbourg in other raids across the country. The Interior Ministry has said the raids will continue.

French Interior Ministry Opens Strasbourg Mosque

News Agencies – September 27, 2012


French Interior Minister Manuel Valls opened the country’s largest Mosque in eastern France, in his first speech to Muslims after the insulting caricatures were released of the Prophet Mohammed. During the opening ceremony of the Great Mosque, Valls praised the wisdom of Muslim leaders, who have called their followers to keep calm following the publication of the caricatures by the Charlie Hebdo Weekly.


“Racism, fundamentalism are not part of Islam,” said the Minister, who also praised the wise and mature stance adopted by French Muslims. The Minister also warned that the government will expel those, who using the name of the Islam, try to attack institutions or cause any type of riots. The inauguration ceremony was attended by local authorities, as well as by representatives of other religions.


The building of the Great Mosque started in 1993 and was partially opened during the holy month of Ramadan in 2011, though it was closed afterwards to conclude the construction work.